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Jun232010

« Magnificent Meatsticks »

the richard meltzer review of the magnificent meatsticks. from the san diego reader july 2000Meltzer's review of the MagMeat song bearing his nameGoodness me. It was a decade ago when me and some fellow beer and burrito loving friends convened in Hog Heaven Studio and wrought havoc on the instruments there. The Magnificent Meatsticks were intentionally horrible, in part because of the facts of the matter: Ezekiel Bonham (Brandon Arnieri) was not particularly a bass player (though he was a technically proficient guitar player but one lacking in musical sense of his own); Ham Rockett (Mike Thaxton, who drove to San Diego each week from Dana Point just to hang out and do this stuff) was not particularly a drummer—in fact, he pretty much hit his first drum hits with us; and Leviticus Mitchell (me) was not particularly a guitar player. That was the point: to be equally handicapped so the worst possible result would follow! The other reason was that as my CD project was approaching a year or pretty regular recording and development, I was frankly burning out on the methodical approach, with some tracks happening delightfully quickly in the early days of the project, and later ones taking some prolonged period to get players and track as best as possible considering no one was getting paid! So the all-improvisatory MagMeat was a breath of fresh air for me, giving me a chance to rattle the musical tree but without sweating details like tuning, rhythmic precision, harmonic or melodic standards, or dare I say, foresight and control of any sort! We were doing our best to scrape the bottom of the barrel, and sometimes we succeeded. Occasionally we actually nearly broke out into something nearly like music, and that was simply not allowable.

Our band name was originally borrowing a couple letters from each of our names: BR AX ED from BRandon/thAXton/ED, but of course the beers induced brainstorming (in the classic tradition of garage bands). Fabulous Fucksticks was a contender before the slightly more acceptable Magnificent Meatsticks was voted in. Our individual names were taken from a formula guided by a biblical first name of some sort and the last name drawn from that of a famous rock drummer (Led Zep, Poison, Hendrix respectively in the list above). We rattled off a few more than that and kept them in mind for when we needed to bestow a name upon another guest Meatstick. I seem to remember a sax player named Steve Young came and blew some horn for us. We dubbed him Deuteronomy Carr after Eric Carr of Kiss. I seem to remember calling Jukka Pietarinen (a Finnish Keneally fan who was here for the Nonkerstock that summer) by something like Methusela Moon or Nicodemus Peart!

The MagMeat was always accompanied by file sharing and other illicit computer based activity by young men. Actually, I was not particularly a part of that but in those early days of mp3s, I was like a kid in a candy store when I realized that Thax seemed to have the means to get damn near anything I wanted, and more. So he was always feeding me some CDs of new stuff, old stuff, odd pop songs I asked for, and so on. He was like a musical drug dealer. That summer was in the very early period of my online presence. Earlier in the year, Thax had started me up on email, gotten me an MP3.com account, and some other stuff like that. I had no computer of my own, so I used to go to Brandon's place a few miles away to check in and make updates. I was getting into Photoshop, starting to dabble with effects and was having fun making little images on Brandon's computer. He used to let me tinker on that thing all night even after he went to bed. I'd mess around and leave at 5 am and then call it a night! It was a far cry from my prior computer experiences, long before all these great programs and the web had been developed. It was like learning magic.

Over some stiff beers (Arrogant Bastard and Stone IPA were pretty common) and some wicked good carne asada burritos we used to joke about how dreadful we sounded and how we could be famous on MP3.com since the space was given away for free. So we set about creating our space there and put up a number of recordings from the first few jams in June or July. We recorded everything straight to two-track and therefore had no mixing recourse. Editing was not off the table though so I practiced some savage editing on the two track stuff and did some odd things like copying and pasting a sample of the left side, making one side stutter or echo separate from the other. Other things we allowed to have done in recording was one vocal performance to "enhance" the trio recording, but it had to be improvised and fucking rude, loud, distorted, or otherwise unacceptable to most listeners. You can hear the seven cuts that we called finished elsewhere on this site. The thing is, since we recorded most of our jams nearly every week, there was massive amounts of material. It was more than my VS-880 could hold so I routinely cut the stuff ruthlessly and then burned CDs. Even still, there are probably 15 CDs on a spindle somewhere that has some of the most er, avant-garde stuff you (n)ever heard. To make up for a lack of chops or compositional foresight or tasteful use of silence, we usually drenched things in massive amounts of long-tailed reverb. It was quite something. (I still occasionally tickle myself with the idea of making a CD of that stuff, cut up ala Miles Davis material with Teo Macero at the helm of the editing block, slash cuts with no real attempt to mask the edits.) For such bad music so intentionally mangled, the two track stuff sonically has way more finesse than it deserves. It's not like we just used a boombox with a built in mic. There are moments when I like certain sounds and mix levels better than some of the stuff I captured track by track and spent days or weeks working on. All this went down 8 channels of mixer (with added effects all the way through) and through a compressor across the whole thing, and there it was!

We put our worst foot forward when I wrote to the San Diego Reader to tell them to pass on word about a certain track called "Richard Meltzer is my Fucking Hero" to the rock critic who bears that name and for the time around then, was a writer who contributed to the Reader. We used to crack ourselves up reading his concert previews, which never really focused on any of the artists being discussed. It was always wild stream of consciousness stuff. Anyhow, we figured we could get his attention with this ditty that invites Richard to come and "fuck me up the ass." It worked. I mean, we got his attention in one of the few articles he ever wrote (that we saw) that actually made mention of the artist in question! Check out the "review" here.

But personally, Magnificent Meatsticks in retrospect has proven to be a sort of heir to the absolutely irreverent stuff I did with Matt Zuniga in 1992-93 or so, and more broadly, the last hurrah of playing with total abandon and just not caring if anything was good or not. After the taste of live interaction in the MagMeat, I found myself wanting to start playing bass within a band context and was hoping to work in that vein a bit. The quartet I tried to get started later that year was a more developed thing for the few weeks it lasted. Brandon was in it, as was his friend Ryan on drums (still one of the best drummers I played with), and Todd Larowe. Various other groupings over the next year or so included Todd or Brandon at times. Eventually though, all that was way more than I was cut out for, some people within these bands giving me the news that I myself was not good enough a player to be in them if we were to really play the music I was hoping to play. But in the summer of 2000, I did not yet know that.

Ahhh—Hog Heaven in the summertime. No windows. No vents. No AC but for a fan or two. Insane humidity like a gym locker room. Play 15 minutes then open the door for 15 or more, then repeat a few times. Get burritos and beer. Come back and scan the recording for some highlights. Ah. The good old days.

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